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Grand jury trials to return in Newton County after seven-month layoff
District attorney issues guidance for jury summonses; says measures in place to safely conduct court
Randy McGinley
Randy McGinley

COVINGTON, Ga. — After a seven-month layoff, Newton County will return to holding grand jury trials this week, acting Alcovy Judicial Circuit District Attorney Randy McGinley announced Monday, Oct. 12.

Since March 14, when the COVID-19 pandemic first made its way to Newton County, McGinley said his office had been working “tirelessly” to keep cases moving through the court system, but no grand jury trials have been held in that time.

“The Chief Justice’s order made it clear that we could only hold grand jury for ‘essential’ matters. Because the order also tolled, or delayed, certain deadlines, such as the statute of limitations, there were no ‘essential’ matters to be heard by a grand jury,” he stated.

Without the ability to hold grand jury trials, McGinley said there was a backlog of approximately 200 cases waiting to be presented. He called the grand jury and an indictment “essential parts of the criminal court system.”

After a judicial emergency order was extended for a sixth time, McGinley said, it was revised to give the chief judge in each judicial circuit the ability to restart grand jury trials after consultation with the district attorney. The order also provided guidance on how to operate with health and safety guidelines in effect.

“After Chief Judge (John) Ott and I discussed the backlog of cases as well as the procedures necessary to hold grand jury at this time, Judge Ott signed an order instructing the Clerk of Superior Court in Newton County to send summonses to 100 Newton County residents to appear for grand jury duty on Wednesday, Oct. (14),” McGinley said. “After this order was issued by Judge Ott, I met numerous times with Linda Hays, Clerk of the Superior Courts. Further, we have and will continue to meet with the sheriff’s office personnel at the courthouse, as well as the County Facilities Department. Mrs. Hays and I, as well as the excellent people in our offices, have been working hard to make sure grand jury can resume in an effective and efficient manner. But most importantly, we are determined to do so in a way where those coming to the courthouse are safe and feel comfortable in the procedures in place.”

McGinley said anyone summoned for jury duty should contact the clerk’s office at 770-784-2035 as soon as possible to answer "pre-screening" questions regarding any exposure to COVID-19. 

On Wednesday morning, McGinley suggested anyone coming to the courthouse should arrive early due to potential long lines. Anyone entering the courthouse must pass the health screening measures that have been in place at the courthouse for the last several months. Everyone must bring and wear a mask, he said.

McGinley said social distancing guidelines would be followed in the courthouse, including in the rooms where the jurors meet. Witnesses, the district attorney’s office personnel and all other courthouse personnel would be wearing a mask during grand jury. The only exception would be for witnesses while they are testifying, he said. 

McGinley said witnesses would be kept “well beyond any social distancing guidelines and/or be wearing face shields so that jurors can see their demeanor and facial expressions while they testify.” All witnesses would be coming to the courthouse on staggered schedules, he said, “to make sure we limit the number of people that are in the building.”